Sometimes overshadowed by Harvard’s better-known, large musical ensembles, the university’s smaller groups provide edifying supplements to the generally excellent but often predictable programs of the main concert groups. One such ensemble is the conductorless Brattle Street Chamber Players, which held its annual fall concert on Friday, Nov. 8. This 14-member, medium-sized string group is committed to playing rarely performed pieces and new compositions. On Friday, the group performed pieces by Antonio Vivaldi and Béla Bartók, as well as an original composition by one of their members, with a playful attitude and technical skill. They brought vigor and style to a program that was relatively brief but of which the coherence and excellence in execution carried the day.
The program began with Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in D minor, Opus 3, No. 11. Performances of baroque chamber works—even well-known ones—by the larger, better-known musical groups on campus are relatively unusual, because these pieces are not composed with orchestral performances in mind. It is refreshing to see one appear in the program, especially performed at such a high level. The performance was generally crisp, with an outstanding performance by cello soloist Mariel A. Werner ’16, whose command of the piece’s technically difficult passages was flawless, allowing her to bring a real and unforced expressiveness to her interpretation.
The Vivaldi piece provided a thematic introduction for the highlight of the program, the premiere of an original composition by violist George A. Meyer ’15 simply titled “Concerto Grosso.” This work, featuring Meyer himself as a viola soloist, displayed much skill in its composition. Several passages were incredibly stirring: there was a noticeable murmur in the audience after the first haunting phrases of the work. Some of the intervening material, however, although technically flawless, felt somewhat mechanical; nevertheless, it was on the whole a masterful composition. This piece clearly brought forth the greatest enthusiasm from the ensemble, whose handling of the piece was immaculate and whose dynamic range made for a powerful experience.
The dissonance of “Concerto Grosso” led naturally into Bartók’s “Divertimento for String Orchestra,” another string-ensemble favorite that does not receive much attention from the larger campus groups. The decision to put this as the third and final piece in the program is a great credit to the concert’s directors and arguably the greatest example of this concert’s highly skilled organization, as the “Divertimento” transitioned from the high tension of “Concerto Grosso” to a relaxed, satisfying resolution for the program. While a technical success, the performance of the piece was relatively unremarkable following the vigor of Meyer’s piece. Regardless, Alan M. Toda-Ambaras ’13, who is finishing his final year in the Harvard-NEC dual degree program at the New England Conservatory, gave a particularly noteworthy performance on cello, bringing an understated elegance and sensitivity to the work.
While large musical ensembles like the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra get the most attention on campus, the high quality found in the performances given by smaller groups testifies to Harvard’s large pool of musical talent. Concertgoers who neglect these groups run the risk of missing many moving, professional-quality performances. The Brattle Street Chamber Players’ Fall Concert illustrated this fact with strength and panache, both through the excellence of the contents’ coordination and the quality of musical skill presented.